INDIANAPOLIS – Last Friday, the NTT IndyCar Series Silly Season really got kicked into gear with the announcement that McLaren Racing was not only joining the series on a full-time basis for 2020 but also joining an existing team too. Basically, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was rebranded. They also switched manufacturers from Honda to Chevrolet as well. Virtue of that, both of their current drivers had decisions to make. It started a domino effect of what was looking like it could possibly be a quiet offseason.
Alexander Rossi already signed with Andretti Autosport and the organization also signed an extension with Honda too. They also have all four current drivers signed for next season as well. Team Penske now has all three of their current drivers under contract for 2020 and Chip Ganassi Racing has Scott Dixon locked up for 2020 with all signs point to Felix Rosenqvist returning to his No. 10 Honda seat for a second season too.
Fernando Alonso practices his No. 66 Chevrolet with McLaren Racing at Indy this past May – INDYCAR Media Site
But, last Friday started what should be a crazy silly season again though.
Marcus Ericsson is a free agent at seasons end and doesn’t appear to be on McLaren or SPM’s radar to come back. He has shown talent and shown that with a second look on some tracks, he can improve. With money to spend, he should be able to land on his feet somewhere. But, where?
What about the other car? James Hinchcliffe is in a conundrum. He’s been with Honda for a while as they’ve been funding him on a personal deal. He’s a spokesperson for them as well and has personal contracts tied up for next season with the manufacturer. But, he’s also under contract to come back to the rebranded team for 2020 as well. The problem is, he can’t receive money from Honda but drive for Chevrolet in the process. Plus, does the team really want him back? There’s been rumors that they may not, but they can’t speak on that publicly since he’s technically under contract. Hinchcliffe, also can’t speak of remaining with Honda since he technically has a contract in place with the team too. While the popular Canadian driver took to social media last Friday and said that he intends to come back to SPM/McLaren and that it would be a dream come true to race for them, some aren’t buying it. Would he rather remain with Honda instead? Would he and SPM work out a buyout to allow him to stay with Honda and get placed elsewhere? Until this is set in stone, we will have a lot of speculation on where everything else falls.
The second seat nevertheless, is a coveted one. We know Fernando Alonso isn’t likely to take it. We know Colton Herta was being sought out but all signs point to him staying put with Andretti in some capacity. See, Andretti holds his option and he’s not going to let him get away that easily. So, does Andretti bring out the fifth car full time in 2020 and put Herta in it or does the alliance with Harding Steinbrenner Racing remain status quo?
That leaves Pato O’Ward having an interest from the team in coming back over to the United States. Nicholas Latifi’s father is an investor in McLaren and makes sense. Felipe Nasr has tested for the team recently and makes sense. There’s a lot of scenarios in play.
If Herta stays with Andretti in some capacity and Hinchcliffe does in fact leave, then you have two open rides with McLaren/Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Here are two not too far fetched options for the lead car now- Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya. We know both want to still run in Indy Car. Castroneves, has one more shot with Penske for the Indy 500 next May but he so desperately wants more opportunities. McLaren wants a veteran to pair with a younger driver and Castroneves would be the perfect driver to hire. He could chase that coveted fourth Indy 500 crown and first series championship still. If not him, Montoya is a hell of a talent and would love to run again in the ‘500. He’s very technical and can set up a car up. After all, he was the Chevy test driver for this new car, so why not hire him to get this team going? If not either, I wouldn’t rule out Tony Kanaan. This is his final year with AJ Foyt Racing contract wise and if McLaren/ASPM is offering, I’d take a serious look. Kanaan, like Montoya, is great with setups. All three South American veterans make sense for the lead car and can help groom a younger driver too.
That leaves Hinchcliffe’s plans if he does in fact leave. Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing makes the absolute most sense. They’re close to having funding for a third car and Hinchcliffe bringing Honda money/support with him makes it more feasible. If not there, then Dale Coyne Racing would make sense too. He’s worked with Craig Hampson in the past and the team can not renew Santino Ferrucci’s option and go with Hinchcliffe instead. If they don’t go that route, then look for Ferrucci to stay with DCR, as the team has said that they, not Ferrucci, hold the option for 2020.
If Ferrucci is to be let go and I wouldn’t allow him to walk unless Hinchcliffe comes to the door, he could be a candidate for McLaren or RLL too.
If Hinchcliffe stays with McLaren/Schmidt entry and Ferrucci remains with DCR, then I wouldn’t put it past RLL to look at Ericsson. He can bring money for that third car too. The most logical other than Hinchcliffe for that third seat though is Meyer Shank Racing and Jack Harvey. They still intend to be full time in 2020 but need a new Honda partner. MSR and RLL have Ohio ties and this could work beautifully.
If not RLL, MSR could also be a place Chip Ganassi Racing looks to merge with. Both have sports car teams and we know CGR is open to an alliance like Andretti has with HSR. This could be an alliance that fell into their laps and what a better landing spot for MSR than Ganassi?
If Ganassi doesn’t form an alliance with MSR or anyone else for that matter, then they’re open to bringing out a third car again. Oliver Askew impressed them in his test a few weeks ago and could be an option. But, Askew could be an option at HSR if Herta is to leave because Andretti can keep a junior team open and if Askew wins the Indy Lights championship he can bring his money and funnel it into a program for Andretti Indy Lights driver to lead into an Indy Car seat.
That leaves Carlin and AJ Foyt Racing. Does Max Chilton return to Carlin or is he done? Conor Daly makes a ton of sense for Carlin as does Matheus Leist. All signs look for Leist to be out with Foyt at seasons end and he has a past history with Carlin including an Indy Lights championship. This would be a great landing spot for him and Daly to team up. Ericsson, also makes sense too.
That would leave at least one ride open with Foyt, possibly two if Kanaan leaves. We know they were high on Castroneves the last time they had rides open and I can see them making a run at him again. After all, Helio wants that fourth Indy 500 trophy and AJ Foyt Racing has been at their best at Indy the last few years. If he can get a full time seat and a good opportunity to win at Indy, Castroneves would be a good fit. Plus, if Kanaan stays, they can remain an all Brazilian team and be very popular in the Month of May with both.
Ed Carpenter Racing is all that’s left with we know the road/street course seat being open with Ed Jones likely not returning as well as the full time seat with Spencer Pigot being a free agent. ECR could have Pigot return but maybe RLL comes calling him again. Daly makes sense. Ericsson, would make sense for the road/street course seat as he brings money and would have a good car. They tested Rinus VeeKay too but it appears that Askew could run away with the Indy Lights championship and VeeKay wouldn’t have the scholarship money yet. Even if he were to catch Askew and win the title, I would think Juncos may not let him get away and bring their car back with his prize money from the championship and at least run select races.
While there really may not be a lot of new names on the grid, we could see a lot of reshuffling within the paddock.